Review: Guacamelee!

Mix super-powered lucha libre wrestling with classic Metroidvania open-world gameplay and what is the outcome? A mash of Mexican madness which is one of the hottest action-platformers during this gaming generation. Designed by little known developers DrinkBox Studios, responsible for Tales Of A Blob From Space, this Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita exclusive game is a unique, visually pleasing and astoundingly amusing game to play and certainly has a lot to shout about.

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The game story is pretty generic, but it flows with a commendable fluid motion. A classic Mario ‘let’s go save the princess!’ storyline, which stars an agave farmer named Juan who is bestowed with a luchadore mask which grants him mystical melee superpowers. His aim? To go and defeat his princess-stealing nemesis Carlos Calaca, who has cheated the devil at his own game and overthrown the underworld in the hope of world domination. In your pursuit of this deranged demon you must overcome his mischievous minions such as the aptly named ‘Flame Face’ by journeying through a plethora of temples, forests and other areas, whilst gaining intriguing power-ups and abilities, such as my personal favourite, the ‘chicken-morph’. On top of this to fill gamers insatiable appetites there are a number of random side missions which gave the game a hint of Deathspank, roaming the area in search of a fancy cheese so you can build the world’s biggest enchilada, or chasing down the infamous chicken in Santa Luchida which has a fetish for stealing treasure.

DrinkBox, the developers, have definitely nailed the gameplay, which moves with an elegant fluidity that leaves you neither bored nor wanting, giving a perfect equilibrium between puzzling, fighting and roaming the environment. The indie-style graphics add a certain zest to the game which is unmistakable along with this fluidity, which when coupled with the wondrous non-linear environment to explore, makes this game an enticing and enjoyable experience. The occasional cut scenes add a comical innocence similar to the likes of Lego games, which frequently made me chuckle and celebrate, especially when I gained a new special ability to threaten my foreboding foes with.

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Fighting your way through hordes of enemies is hugely satisfying in this game with an impressive compendium of moves, abilities and possible combos that rivals even the likes of Street Fighter (and matches the difficulty to perform the moves in multiple cases). I was frequently wounded due to my indecisiveness to choose an attack, fortunately the game tries to aid you in your decision by providing enemies with shields that can only be destroyed using certain abilities. Once you have a firm grasp on the combat system however, the combat becomes thoroughly enjoyable and makes you feel surprisingly god-like. There is also a plethora of annoying enemies, ranging from overweight exploding bats to bomb-throwing cacti, which will leave you tearing at your hair as you plow through multiple arena zones, as in any good platformer.

An upbeat cacophony of Mariachi style tunes is an apt description of Guacamelee’s music. It will get your feet tapping as you wander the various civilian areas of the game and possibly even whistling along to the epic trumpet solos like I did. Whilst pursuing the princess through the perilous enemy-infiltrated forests, deserts and temples, the music alters to a more sinister flamenco style which I found (being an experienced musician) extremely well composed and made the game more thrilling as I beat up enemy skeletons and cacti alike.

Collectibles are a big part of the game, scouring the area for potential health and stamina upgrades to increase the awesomeness of Juan sucked up a lot of my playtime, and finding all of these will probably eat up quite a few more hours of enigmatic gameplay as they are deceptively hidden and many require logical thinking and a minor aspect of luck in order to obtain. Back-tracking is also encouraged by the game, as you increase your artillery of muscle mayhem, you are able to return to previous sections and storm through special colour-coded blocks with satisfying ease to plunder the treasure that lurks within. There are also upgrades which can be purchased with coins acquired from defeating foes and uncovering hidden treasure chests which help to maximise Juan’s already freakish muscles. But even with these collectibles and an unlockable ‘hard mode’ upon completion, don’t expect to eke out more than about ten hours of gameplay.

Guacamelee! is definitely worth the price tag, especially if you own a Playstation Vita as purchasing the game allows a cross-buy version free. Far from a copycat of Metroid, this platformer places a strong emphasis on Mexican folklore and culture that is unrivalled, making it an innovative experience, and a pleasure to play and review.

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